It’s surprisingly quite noble of Blink-182 to sell t-shirts that proclaim “Finest quality crappy punk rock est. 1992.” It’s noble because it’s actually true. Blink-182 has been making crappy simplistic punk rock for the entirety of their career. But fuck me if isn’t of the highest caliber. In between their mastery of crafting the perfect pop melodies, hauntingly unforgettable guitar riffs and drum beats that leave your thighs bleeding from all that knee-drumming, Mark Hoppus, Tom Delonge and Travis Barker know how to craft a perfect song. Enema of the State stands as the bands preeminent album, having gone five-times Platinum in the U.S., and being the perfect musical portrayal of teenage life: liking girls, being immature, hating your parents, hating your school, hating your family, hating your life and hating pretty much everything else. Jon Blistein of this very site summarized it best, Blink-182 weren’t ever re-inventing the wheel, “…but when it came to capturing the dissatisfaction, confusion, and angst of being 15 – and the humor that stems from all of it – no one did it better than Blink-182.”
After eight years of being on an “indefinite-hiatus,” Blink-182 have returned for their sixth-album, Neighborhoods. In the years following the vitriolic split of the band, each went on to a sizeable amount of other projects that, while admirable, could never reach the success and significance of their former success. Tom Delonge discovered that delay pedals and the Edge existed and formed an arena rock super group that could never fill arenas with Angels and Airwaves, while also finding time to make a film (Love), and establishing the musically-bent social networking site ModLife. Meanwhile, Mark Hoppus became some sort of media entrepreneur, dabbling in a weekly podcast and hosting a one-hour talk show. In between that, he also found time to try his hand at producing more than five albums, while also playing in his new band Plus 44, with Blink-182 drummer, Travis Barker. Perhaps the most determined member of the band, Barker continued to put his horrifyingly brilliant drumming talent to use, working with the likes of the Black Eyed Peas, Pink and Avril Lavigne. In the mean time, he also put out his own album, Give The Drummer Some which featured RZA, Raekwon, Kid Cudi, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne and others. Put simply: they did a lot.
At the 2009 Grammys when the three announced they were getting back together, I think that a lot people perked up just a little bit, curious as to what what their teenage angst sounds like eight years later. It’s a peculiar experience; all of Blink-182’s songs only have meaning due to how they perfectly depict every awkward aspect of adolescence, but what does the band sound like when there are no memories attached to every song? With Neighborhoods’, it doesn’t feel as though Blink-182 are asking to soundtrack another part in our lives, but much rather are helping us relive what made some of those times so great.
Delonge-fronted “Wishing Well” harks back to the likes of Enema of the State with the chorus using the memorable na-na-na’s that made “All The Small Things” so popular, while “This Is Home” charges from the start with a riff that doesn’t stray to far from that of “Rock Show.” The band’s confusingly either self-titled and/or untitled last album saw Blink-182 broadening their horizons; employing the vocal talents of The Cure’s Robert Smith and moving into darker lyrical territory. While Neighborhoods relives some of the band’s former glory with songs like the Cheshire Cat-esque “Hearts All Gone,” the band has noted on several occasions that their sixth album would show the band progressing. The first single “Up All Night” acts as the most obvious development, with its heavy riff originating from the last album’s sessions, its verse preaching “everyone raises kids in a world that changes life to a bitter game.” Deluxe-edition track “Fighting the Gravity” is perhaps the weirdest experiment, finding Blink-182 doing their best Radiohead impersonation, as samples of Hoppus’ vocals scatter over an industrious Barker beat, while thin and poignant guitar remains subtle amongst a curious blend of production. Unfortunately, this impressive production work doesn’t resonate throughout the rest of Neighborhoods, with a number of songs failing to complete the jigsaw of the consistent sound that was found on their 2003 record.
If there were to be a centrepiece, it’s “Natives,” a track that revolves around a crafted Barker loop, a “Dumpweed” guitar lead, with an angst-ridden chorus that cries “maybe I’m a waste of your time, maybe I’m better off dead,” channelling a thought that every whingey teenager has encountered, “let me go and go, I’m never coming home.” If “Natives” captures the apprehension of being an adolescent, “Even If She Falls” conveys the optimistic anxiety, describing that special girl, “like a starry night, like a ferris wheel.”
What would a Blink-182 album be though if there weren’t a few crappy songs? “MH 4.18.2011” (the title was a demo of Mark Hoppus’ recorded on the date, but Delonge thought it sounded like the name of a virus), is one of those mediocre songs that is easy to dismiss as just another crappy punk rock song, as Hoppus tells someone to “stop living in the shadow of a helicopter.” “Snake Charmer” is another song that falls short and has proven to me that Tom Delonge could get cheesier, telling of a seductive female that “creeps up like a spider, and wants you deep inside her.” As nostalgic as “Ghost On The Dancefloor” is, the production is abhorrent, using the most obvious of synth pad presets to hide the hints of Angels and Airwaves that have seeped into Delonge’s voice.
For every fault that Neighborhoods has – and it has quite a few – the album is infectious and catchy. Blink-182 have never taken themselves seriously, and it makes them very easy to forgive for every misstep. If you’re willing to overlook the embarrassment of listening to a teenage pop-punk band, this album is rewarding. Every chorus is as pleasurably as memorable as the last, and will permeate every facet of your brain like every Blink-182 song before them. In some sense, I strangely wish that I could be a teenager again to hear this album in a more relative context, as it would’ve served as a worthy adversary amongst the band’s discography. It is what it is though, and whether you like them or not, Neighborhoods is definitely a Blink-182 album.